Annalisa Haskell, Chief Executive Officer, March 2014
The LGMA NSW board recently had an opportunity to talk to Ross Woodward about the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final report. This was a terrific opportunity to allow LGMA NSW to both clarify and put forward our ideas in a genuine two way process. We are currently working on the response to the Panel’s final paper ‘Revitalising Local Government‘.
While we will address all the Panel’s recommendations in our submission, we will be again communicating to the government that their focus needs to be, in the first instance, on all the initiatives that will directly enhance the financial health, control and sustainability of councils.
We believe some of the financial sustainability elements can begin immediately and that other priorities (while important) can wait. We refer back to the research LGMA NSW completed last year as the basis of our original submission, where the sector was clear that the financial sustainability of the sector was the top priority.
Secondly, we believe strengthening the ability and potentially the associated regional structures, to ensure the substantive co-ordination of regional planning with state government is achieved is a good idea. Whether it is development, infrastructure or roads, the regional planning component should be strengthened and be done hand in glove with state government.
Thirdly, in our view, this planning priority does not include any notion of compulsory regional ‘service delivery’. LGMA NSW sees service delivery as optional whereas strategic regional planning is not. We believe that enhanced service delivery should be at the discretion of councils and they should be able to decide who best to work with and how to deliver the best value for their communities. It may be that shared services does occur at a regional level but that this should be on an ‘opt in’ basis - not to be confused with the strategic function outlined.
Finally, in our view, if in the future it is shown that a council’s sustainability objectives cannot be met, even with the above initiatives and level of support in place, then it should be at that stage that a discussion regarding appropriate council structures should be had. We maintain we do not believe that increasing the size of councils is in itself, an answer to financial sustainability and we wholly support the idea that the role of the governing body (council) needs much greater emphasis and clarity, and that all that can be done, is done, to ensure the highest quality of skilled candidates and councillors.
I look forward to updating all our members in due course once our submissions are completed.